Flannery Month: Day 5
“The Turkey” by Flannery O’Connor
Quote of Note: “He kicked a stone away from his foot. He’d never see the turkey now. He wondered why he had seen it in the first place if he wasn’t going to be able to get it.”
Summary: A young boy sees an injured Turkey and chases after it. He wants to catch it so he can impress his parents, who he hears fighting when he wakes up during the night. He struggles with the Turkey, it gets away, but then reappears suddenly, an incidence he attributes to God. He struts through town with his Turkey, but then a group of children come and steal it before he can pridefully take it home.
- The turkey in this story reminds me of the white whale in Moby Dick or the “something” in Robert Frost’s poem “For Once, then Something.” It is the ever elusive “truth,” the proof not only that God exists, but that He acts in our daily lives, a source of inspiration or pride or achievement. And yet, its also just a turkey. O’Connor plays with the same sense of truth that we see in transcendentalist writings, but at the end of the day she can’t fight the realism that the turkey is just a turkey. Instead of endlessly searching for that tiny glimmer of hope that eludes us, O’Connor’s protagonist catches the turkey, discovers the truth, witnesses and act of God, and then unceremoniously loses it without a fight. The last line of the story, “He ran faster and faster, and as he turned up the road to his house, his heart was running as fast as his legs and he was certain that Something Awful was tearing behind him with its arms rigid and its fingers ready to clutch,” is almost sinister. If God can make the Turkey appear in front of the boy, ripe for the catching, he can also take it away, reminding us of our own sinfulness and the “Something Awful” grabbing at our heels. The last line reminds me a lot of the beginning of Wise Blood when Hazel Motes spies Jesus hiding from tree to tree. O’Connor makes the calling of Christ, or religion, or any search for the truth, into something harrowing and haunting, constantly reminding us of our own human potential for sin.
- I also love the theme of religion and children. I grew up in the South where most of church has a Southern Baptist hue and I remember being taught the Bible in such a literal way while struggling to understand the seemingly absurdest, fantastical elements. The line from this story, “How do you gnash your teeth? he wondered. He grated his jaws together and made an ugly face. He did it several times,” reminded me of that struggle and the way that in O’Connor’s stories, children’s inability to detect the real from the metaphorical can have disastrous effects (see The River). Even in this story, as the protagonist imbues his capture of the Turkey with spiritual significance, he then struggles with his own autonomy and the expectations and powers of God, leading to the darkness at the end of the story, when the Turkey is taken away from him and he is paralyzed, unable to run and fight for it.